This recent sunset over the Amelia River, Fernandina Beach, FL was stunning all on its own. When this family fishing boat cut across the foreground heading home for the night, it gave the photo even more contrast, depth and meaning.
I’ve been known to exaggerate. Believe me, there is no exaggeration in this story.
The day dawned bright and cheery. An orange sunrise quickly transitioned into a rare cloudless January day in northeast Ohio.
I was glad for that. I had a wide variety of activities planned. However, I could not begin to imagine how an unforeseen incident would impact not just the day itself, but my life, too.
First and foremost on the agenda was to complete a final draft of yet another newspaper column. Lunch would be early since I had a 1 p.m. appointment in my hometown, Canton, Ohio.
I am fortunate that I married a woman who loves to cook. She rules the kitchen. I help where needed, usually cleaning up afterward. Not this Saturday.
I arrived at my appointment right on time. An hour later I was visiting with my friend and barber, Paul, who was recovering from a severe stroke at a rehab facility near where I had been.
I had a marvelous visit with Paul and his wife. It was great to have him on the road to recovery. Their congeniality energized me.
Next I went in search of a couple of rare birds reported in the area. On the way, a small flock of American Robins flew across the road in front of me and landed in a crabapple tree loaded with fruit as orange as the birds’ breasts. I imagined the birds devoured the aged apples.
Despite my best attempts, I couldn’t locate the wayward warbler near Massillon. It should have been in tropical climes by now. With the sun shining brightly, I found the cold, sharp January air refreshing.
Next up was my third attempt to locate a Snowy Owl in Sugarcreek. Others had seen it only a few minutes after arriving. Not me. This visit was strike three for me.
I arrived at my final destination near dusk. The friendly property owner, who happened to be outside, graciously welcomed me. I asked his assistance in finding another rare bird near his home.
First though, the glowing sunset caught my eye. Even if I missed this bird, the view of the setting sun from this kind man’s backyard was stunning.
With the light growing dim, my new friend suggested we look for a pair of Short-eared Owls that he had seen on the farm just east of his home. Sure enough, there they were, majestically coursing the snow covered pastures for four-legged varmints. When one of the owls caught one, it buzzed by the other one instead of eating the critter. Was it showing off?
Back home, my wife, Neva, and I basked to the crackling of the fireplace while watching college basketball. It had been an eventful day.
Of course, none of these fulfilling proceedings would have happened if it hadn’t been for my wonderful wife. I failed to tell you that at lunch I choked on a piece of chicken.
Fortunately, Neva was nearby, and her instincts kicked in. With three thrusts of the Heimlich maneuver, the chicken dislodged, and I could breathe again.
Neva’s quick action enabled me to fully appreciate every moment of that day, and all that has transpired since then. Clearly, that is the very model of understatement.
Words are too cheap to express my utmost gratitude. Neva definitely saved the day and my life. There is simply no better way to put it.
I doubt that the line on this fisherman’s pole would reach the horizon. But I thought the combination of the bait bucket, pole, and the photo bomb by the Willet and the Black Skimmers made an interesting composition to a recent sunrise on Main Beach, Fernandina Beach, FL.
Besides the contrast of the orange sky and sun with the blue Atlantic Ocean, the textures of the sand and seashells gave the photo depth and character.
Now, there are plenty of beautiful valleys in our area. For me to say I have a favorite sounds a bit selfish. It’s not. It’s personal.
To be sure, I don’t own the undulating acreage. I just enjoy it.
You can’t find a name for my favored hollow on any map. I’ve never heard anyone refer to it by name in the three decades my wife and I have lived here.
An Amish one-room school, Drushel Knoll, might come the closest to naming this wide-open expanse of land surrounded by wooded hills. Drushel was a pioneer landowner where the school sits. The knoll is nothing more than a rise in a sweeping pasture.
To call it a valley might even be a stretch. A quiet brook lazily meanders northwest through this productive, fertile ground. For the longest time, the land was all farmland. Farmsteads dotted hill and dale. More recently, a few residences have also popped up along the skinny township road that rises, falls and rises again east and west.
This is the sacred place where I take my physical and mental exercises. When the weather is decent, I love to walk this humble road over to Ivan’s farm.
I will continue to do so, but Ivan will no longer be there. As he fixed his lunch bucket for work one recent morning, he collapsed and was gone. He was only 65.
Ivan would bicycle by our home on the way to and from his job at a local business we can see from our home. Not long ago, he had turned the hard but satisfying task of farming over to his energetic son, whose wife was one of my former students.
As my wife and I entered the farm building where Ivan’s body lay at rest, friends and warm handshakes greeted us. We paid our last respects to this quiet, hard-working man, husband, father, grandfather, brother, friend.
Tears flowed as we bent to share our condolences with Ivan’s widow and family. In the Amish tradition, family members sit in rows of facing chairs as mourners quietly pass through, shaking hands left and right, nodding heads, sharing moments, memories, and sorrowful tears.
Wife, children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, friends, all expressed grace in the Amish manner, through their quiet, reverent presence. It was a communion of sorts, tears for wine, a gathering of steadfast people its bread.
I marveled at the strength of the family, their genuine kindness and positive comments even in the face of their grievous loss. As I scanned the forlorn faces, I saw folks I had not seen for years. Our spirits mutually embraced without actually hugging one another.
When you live in a rural community for decades, you take for granted the integral connections of one family to another. Being among those assembled mourners, the closeness and goodness of our common kinship washed over me.
Ivan was a good man, a quiet man, a respected man, a man of peace. To a member, his family mirrors his pleasant disposition.
It seemed impossible that such sadness could hover over this lovely setting, home, family. And yet, it did. It does.
A different kind of beauty flooded my favorite valley. The loving grace of community responding to a stricken, grieving family surpassed that of the basin’s enchanting pastoral physical features.
Even in death’s darkness, the light radiated in my beloved valley.
I have lived among “the plain people,” as the Amish are sometimes called, for more than 30 years. Over the years, I have marveled at the groupings of their nondescript buildings, the simple beauty of the textured angles. Of course, I am likely romanticizing their architectural practicality.
This farmstead is a good example. The combination of a fresh snowfall in the foreground and a bright blue sky in the background nicely framed this cluster of farm buildings at this Old Order Amish homestead.
I had a lot of time to think and reflect over the recent holidays. It wasn’t what I had in mind. In the end, it may have been what I needed the most.
Like so many other folks, I got the flu. Mine hit just before Christmas, not good timing with the family gathering for the holidays. We had a lot planned, too.
I’ve learned that plans sometimes have to change, whether we like them to or not. I isolated myself from the grandkids until I was no longer contagious and felt well enough to participate. Even then, I kept my distance and paced myself. When the chill subsided, I snapped a few photos from the house.
This current flu outbreak has been particularly bad, spreading fast and furious. I got my annual flu shot, but medical officials said this strain had mutated, rendering the vaccination no defense against the illness’s manifestations.
The other problem was that the initial symptoms behaved more like a head cold than the flu. This strain was more a respiratory influenza than an intestinal one. Consequently, most people were out and about unknowingly spreading more than good cheer at the holidays.
Sneezing and coughing were the first signs that all was not well. Then came the chills, aching and sore throat. Many people had fevers, too.
I pitied children and older folks. Both groups had little resistance to fight the flu’s harshest effects, fatigue, and fever. Unfortunately, some even died from this infectious infirmity.
Not only did this sickness spread rapidly, it stayed with people for days on end. Often, it morphed into other physical issues, like strep throat, sinus infection or laryngitis. This exponentially extended the time of sickness.
It respected no boundary lines either. People all around got sick. Health officials declared this influenza occurrence an epidemic. It certainly was in my family. The flu bug spanned three generations among my close relatives.
As I lay shivering beneath warm blankets, all I could think about was how lousy I felt. Then I heard of someone else getting sick, and I felt even worse. Not that it was my fault, but I felt bad for them.
It wasn’t until I reached the end stages of my round with the flu that I began to recognize just how thankful I was for life’s little things. Yes, I had missed some traditional gatherings with family and friends. But the times of solitude gave me opportunities to reflect on the good that had come into my life.
I appreciated the homemade Moravian ginger snap cookies paired with warm mint tea my wife fixed for me. That and the bubbling sodas and the clear, cold water kept me hydrated.
A rare bright, sunny morning bathed the dormant earth in radiant beauty, and warmed at least my soul. So did notes of encouragement from others that came via phone calls, texts, cards, and emails.
I found great comfort in those thoughtful gestures. They helped me heal. I wanted to return the favors.
When I discovered another person had the flu, I relayed what information my own doctor’s office had given to me. It was about all I could do. For once, my message was pretty short. Rest. Drink. Eat. Take your medication. Repeat.
Of course, you don’t have to get sick to be thankful for the random common occurrences that better and brighten your day. Just embrace and enjoy them as they occur. And don’t forget to say thank you.
Winter arrived in earnest this week in Ohio’s Amish country. Once the snow quit, I went out to shoot some snow scenes. This one took the prize for me. And when a friend asked me where he could buy the postcard, I knew I had my Photo of the Week.
This current polar blast is hitting a lot of the country. I hope “Winter Postcard” will at least warm your spirits.